The first epiphany hit about 5km beyond Belur. We were headed to our getaway at a Chikmagalur lakeside resort and so, were duly listing out all Chikmagalur tourist attractions.
The road from Bengaluru, actually the national highway, was that rarer-than-rare gem—a truly good road, with lowlands of variegated green hedged on the horizon by modest-sized hill ranges, rolling away from us on both sides. Alamanda and Oleander blazed sunshine yellow and deep pink on the medians. It had been raining copiously back in Bengaluru but here, a watery sun was making its presence felt.
We had already made a couple of significant stops, en route. At Shravanabelagola, 145km outside Bengaluru, we had climbed the 650 steps, a gentle breeze blowing in the higher reaches, to admire the world’s largest monolithic statue, that of Bahubali, all 58 feet of serene splendour, from close quarters. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Prakrit, dating back to 981 AD. Ironically though, the pond which gives Shravanabelagola its name, the white pond of Shravana, was, despite all the rainfall, desolately dry.
Our second stop was equally riveting, a guided walk through the 12th century Chennakeshava temple in the old Hoysala capital of Belur in Hassan district. The temple had taken 103 years to build and every available surface of its facade is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes, elephants, lions, horses, sensuous dancers, and the like. Inside, it’s equally stunning, with an array of ornate pillars gleaming in the dim light.
That epiphany I mentioned earlier? It was that we were not going to be ensconced in the heart of Chikmagalur. Instructions from the resort specified that we drive on to Mudigere, take a left and reach our destination. And so we did just that, to reach the Flameback Lodges, with its well-appointed suites overlooking emerald paddy fields and its stone-and-wood villas overlooking a charming man-made lake.
All of Chikmagalur’s main attractions, like the Mullayangiri peak, Hebbe Falls, Baba Budangiri Hills, the Kudremukh National Park stood more than 40 kms away from where we were. Oh, and cellular reception was practically nil at our resort, which meant a digital detox perforce. And so, the decision was taken: We would just go with the flow, relax, see what we could see. And this POA gave us the best of results because (epiphany two!) once you are off the beaten track, everything you see and do, is with a heightened sense of appreciation.
And there was much to do off the beaten track. A coffee estate walk became a bird-watching jaunt, gawping at (disclosure: I know nothing about birds!) small pert birds, birds that made a whirring noise, birds that shrilled incessantly, birds that went by names like purple heron, wagtail, racket-tailed drongo, oriole, and the flameback woodpecker after whom the resort is named. Coffee was a relatively recent debutante in these parts; before the fragrant bean was brought by the Sufi saint Baba Budan in the 16th century, fields of paddy and the cardamom and areca plantations ruled the roost hereabouts. Sections of the walk included shola-like undergrowth and tall trees with a Rambutan-like bract growing redly on its branches, as well as trees hung over with yellow berries, orange tree orchids making splotches of orange and lemon, and carmine hibiscus growing in plenty, all of this providing delightfully startling shots of colour against the ubiquitous green background.
A visit to a stream that flowed swiftly over big black boulders, which we were told joins up with the Hemavati, became a pleasant trek through meadows of lavender, purple, pink and yellow wildflowers, with softly contoured bright green hills on the near horizon and vividly coloured butterflies flitting at knee-level. A short climb up a lone-tree hill gave us a clear view of the tree, bereft of any kind of foliage, when we started out, but then was swiftly obscured by mist even as we walked towards it. We waited awhile for the touted valley view but the mist was coming in, thick and fast, and eventually we gave up. However, walking through the clouds was an exhilarating experience.
A stop by the ancient Bettada Bhairaveshwara temple that had a faintly sinister air to it, turned into a climb up the Pandava Hill that lay beyond. The hill was steep but in gradients, and half-an-hour later, we were at a grassy knoll with the most amazing views of the ranges that encircled us, the sun shining on the black stone of the deserted Bhairava temple below, clouds massing silently but close.
A visit to the 900-year-old Kalabhairaveshwara shrine at Devaramane had us staring at the temple tank with fascination. It had such an old air about it, and, apparently, was a watering hole for elephants, sambar and wild dogs. We stared with equal fascination at a lurid plump stone peacock in the temple precincts but that was horrified fascination…. an ideal example of new ruining old!
To one side of the temple tank sat a derelict structure with one wall painted with a mural of a fierce goddess. An old tree bent protectively over it. Our guide said it was a shrine to a yaksha but was unable to supply more details.
Everything was lush and verdant. The paddy shone brilliantly, with egrets making large white flecks amidst the green. The coffee grew in typical unbridled fashion, pepper vines clung steadfast to trees, and cardamom was lavish in its presence. Just about every hill was covered in a carpet of small wildflowers. Small waterfalls were to be found at the edge of the sholas, the water jumping whitely over smooth stones. And looming above all was the magnificent Western Ghats.
By the end of the holiday, I had my third epiphany: Going with the flow is one great way to unwind!